Friday, March 19, 2010

Diversity Training

Anyone who has ever been through "diversity training" (I have) knows that it is mostly empty platitudes, and to the extent that it is not, it is unpleasant. It is therefore with a sense of vindication that I read this:

Now a few social scientists are taking a hard look at these programs, and, so far, what they’re finding is that there’s little evidence that diversity training works. A paper published last year by the psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck and political scientist Donald Green comprehensively surveyed the literature on prejudice reduction measures and found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior.

“Even with best practices, you’re not going to get much of an effect,” says Frank Dobbin, a Harvard University sociology professor on the research team. “It doesn’t change what happens at work.”
Another study found that voluntary programs worked better than required ones --who, I wonder, would volunteer for such an ordeal? -- and that programs that mentioned the threat of lawsuits had a negative effect:

Even the better programs led only to marginal changes. And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits - the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined - slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they’ve heard.
None of which is to say that discrimination is not a real problem in America. It is. Diversity training as currently practiced just does nothing about the problem:
“We were increasingly frustrated by the fact that we know a lot about what kinds of disparities there are in organizations, and what kind of disadvantages women and minorities faced, but we know almost nothing about how to how to reduce them,” says Alexandra Kalev, a sociologist at the University of Arizona.

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